The Nine review: Assured debut for BBC Scotland’s flagship news show

A few technical glitches and some presenting quirks that will be ironed out couldn’t dampen a bright start for Scotland’s new current affairs show, writes Ross McCafferty.

The new BBC Scotland Channel might have disappointed those agitating for a ‘Scottish 6’ by instead scheduling a flagship current affairs show for later in the evening, but there was no mistaking the intentions of ‘The Nine’ to fill a gap in Scotland’s news output.

While much has and will be written about the uneven opening night variety show and the paucity of laughs on Still Game, The Nine is being vaunted by the BBC as the flagship of their new £32m channel.

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The Nine launched tonight. Picture: Alan PeeblesThe Nine launched tonight. Picture: Alan Peebles
The Nine launched tonight. Picture: Alan Peebles

A lot has also been made of the assembled journalistic line-up on the new show, which even detractors would concede contains some of the best reporting and presenting talent in the country.

Martin Geissler and Rebecca Curran are the perfect fit for the new format, which pleasingly occupies the gap between a news show or more of a news-magazine round-up.

The man to fall into that gap was Labour MSP Neil Findlay, who could be forgiven for thinking as he lounged on the Nine couch that he was appearing on some kind of tartan One Show.

Geissler and Curran quickly put that notion to bed with a sustained tag-team grilling on Labour’s Brexit position that would have been worthy of Jeremy Paxman in his pomp.

Meanwhile, one of the few signs of the show pursuing the much sought-after 16-34 demographic was the casual use of the phrase ‘spoiler alert’ by Westminster Correspondent Rajdeep Sandhu during a back-and-forth on the latest Brexit crisis with her Brussels counterpart Jean MacKenzie.

More a matter of personal preference of course, but the segment could have done with a book-end at the end of the hour-long programme to recap things as Mackenzie and Sandhu seem like two smart hires.

The same can also be said of former Daily Record and STV reporter Chris Clements, who brought his investigative pedigree to the show with a well-shot and painstakingly researched investigation into the flow of street drugs into Scotland.

Everything about the segment worked, from the trails, to the VT, to the post-film debrief in the studio, and is a very positive sign about the kind of work the Nine can and will do.

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Perhaps to ease his transition from America back to Scotland, Chief News Correspondent James Cook was in the transatlantic layover hotspot of Iceland for another well-worked segment on Brexit.

Cook is to be applauded for even considering leaving behind the glitz and glamour of Hollywood and the tribulations of Donald Trump to work for the Nine, and his passion for the format was evident as he flitted between light vox-pops in the lagoons of Reykjavik to a serious chat with no less a figure than the Prime Minister of the country.

The second half of the programme flowed slightly less fluently than the first 30 minutes, with the old adage ‘three’s a crowd’ proving true as sports reporter Amy Irons interviewed the managers of Scotland’s football and rugby teams.

Geissler and Curran could and should have sat the segment out, as their interventions Irons struggled to get much worthy out of Gregor Townsend and Alex McLeish on a crowded Nine sofa.

The recaps of headlines several times could have also been left in the editing suite (it seemed bizarre to be told of Clements’ investigation just moments after watching) but these quirks are churlish to reflect upon during opening night.

So too, hopefully, will the occasional technical glitch that featured tonight, including cutting to an ident during a prepared film.

There may be well-earned doubts about the future of the new BBC Scotland channel, but only the terminally cynical would regard The Nine as anything other than a hugely positive step forward.

If the series continues in the same confident vein as tonight’s opening, then even those Scottish Six absolutists who consider the Nine sacrilege might have yet their world view turned upside down.